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  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • Maine can write a new chapter by focusing on better public policy

     

    Editorial by Rep. Craig Hickman:

    Go further and do better.

    My parents, Hazelle and Minnie Hickman, were children of the Great Depression. They were frugal, wise, resilient, and principled people, generous to a fault and strict as all get out.

    They taught me the power of community and self-reliance, to revere public service as a responsibility and a duty.

    They also taught me the values of fairness and equality in the most literal and fundamental sense. Every person gets a life, and every person should have a fair and equal shot at making that life as good and right as she or he can.

    These are Maine values too.

    I’ve learned during my time in Augusta that we need to write a new chapter of Maine’s story. For too long our story has been about shuttered factories, disappearing jobs, and communities struggling to get by.

    We can begin to write that new chapter if we focus on creating real changes through better public policy. We can do a better job protecting veterans, seniors and our natural resources. We can do a better job supporting small businesses and working families and defending personal liberties for every Mainer.

    We know our path forward.

    Maine needs policy that ensures every family can feed itself.

    Policy that gets displaced Mainers back to work creating lasting infrastructure that will rebuild our razed rural communities.

    Policy that supports local food and water systems which will strengthen farming, fishing and forestry -- our heritage industries.

    And policy that ensures liberty and justice for generations of Mainers.

    As a farmer, I know that hard work bears fruit from the bottom of the plant to the top.

    As a farmer, I know that all things thrive in the full light of day. Building consensus and increasing transparency must be the hallmarks of our approach to governance.

    We must always remain civil in the face of incivility, refuse easy scapegoats and choose our words with the care befitting the office to which we have been elected.

    And, if I have my way, we will end hunger once and for all. We will eradicate poverty and we will move Maine toward prosperity.

    The road before us is long, and we will have missteps. But when the going gets tough, I will be inspired by the wise words of my mother, who passed away two years ago this week, that we must go further and do better. We must listen more intently to the voices of those who cry in the dark. And we must always remember that our work in Augusta must ensure that every person has a fair and equal chance to make their lives as good and right as she or he can.

    On this weekend of transition in our nation, in the face of uncertainty and anxiety for many, I remain hopeful and motivated to fight for what is right, and I firmly believe that good will prevail. I hope you do too.

  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • U.S. Reps. Pingree, Wittman introduce bipartisan legislation to protect working waterfronts

    Working Waterfront in Harpswell, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Representatives Chellie Pingree (ME-01) and Rob Wittman (VA-01) are introducing bipartisan legislation today to protect the kind of waterfront access and infrastructure that many businesses—and thousands of jobs—depend on in Maine, Virginia, and in communities all over the country.

    “The importance of Maine’s coastline to our state’s economy can’t be understated.  It’s not only the reason millions of people visit our state every year, but many industries—like fishing, boat yards, and aquaculture—simply can’t operate without it,” said Pingree.  “Development pressures mean that we’ve lost an enormous amount of working waterfront in recent decades. To ensure the future of these critical industries, Maine and other coastal states need tools to protect waterfront access and infrastructure.  And that’s what our bill aims to do.”

    "Deteriorating waterfronts don’t just hurt our economy, they hurt our communities," said Wittman.  "These waterfronts support businesses, provide access to water, vitalize the economy, and improve quality of life for folks all over the country. Unfortunately, pressure from population growth and development threaten to destroy Virginia’s many water-dependent industries and displace families that have deep cultural ties to the area. This legislation will protect communities along our coasts by supporting maritime industry, protecting vital jobs, and preserving our natural resources."

    Pingree and Wittman's bill, the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act, would establish a Working Waterfront Grant Program that would provide matching, competitive grants to coastal states.  The grants would go toward preserving and expanding access to coastal waters for commercial fishing, recreational guiding, aquaculture, boat building, and other water-dependent businesses.

    Working waterfront in Portland, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    The bill would also create a Working Waterfront Task Force at the Department of the Interior.  The task force would identify and prioritize critical working waterfront needs with respect to their cultural and economic importance, climate change and other environmental threats, and market conditions for water-dependent businesses.  It would also identify working waterfronts within communities.

    “Strong working waterfronts are critical to the future of Maine's fishing communities and marine economy. Maine has less than 20 miles of working waterfront along our 3,500-mile coastline,” said Nick Battista, Marine Programs Director at the Island Institute. “In Maine, we have worked hard to ensure people can continue to make a living off of the water but we cannot do it alone. It’s essential that our federal agencies better incorporate the needs of our nation’s working waterfronts into their decision-making processes.”

    According to the National Working Waterfront Network, working waterfronts support over 3.4 percent of the country’s total GDP, but there is no federal agency or program designed to help businesses, communities, and states protect these places. 

    “Once a working waterfront gets converted to another use, it’s very difficult to get it back. That means our coastlines can sustain fewer jobs both directly and indirectly,” Pingree said.  “I don’t think the loss of our working waterfronts has been a high enough federal priority.  The government needs a more coordinated response and to support states that want to protect the working waterfronts they still have and expand where possible.” 

  • USDA seeks applications for rural Maine community economic development projects

    Through the USDA’s Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) program $290,000 is now available for business development projects in Maine’s rural communities.

    “The RBDG program helps provide rural areas of the state with additional means for pursuing diverse economic development opportunities, which can lead to job creation and the strengthening of local economies,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

     Eligible applicants include public bodies, nonprofit corporations, and Native American tribes, who can utilize these funds for the benefit of private, small business enterprises in the communities that they serve.  Project types can range from real property development and equipment acquisition, to technical assistance, planning and training, to revolving loan fund capitalization.

     The grant award process is competitive, and priorities are established for: leveraging other resources, areas of economic distress, lower populations, higher unemployment, lower incomes, experience of the applicant, small business start-up or expansion, job creation, and supporting agency initiatives.  Projects that support strategic multi-jurisdictional development, the bioeconomy, local and regional food systems, renewable energy, and high-poverty areas are typically looked upon very favorably. 

    Grant awards are also generally under $100,000 each.

     All areas of the state are considered rural and eligible for this program, with the exceptions of Portland and surrounding parts of Falmouth, Westbrook, Scarborough, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth.

     Applications for the RBDG program are due by May 2, 2016. For questions or more information on how to apply, please contact Rural Development Business Programs Specialist Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or brian.wilson@me.usda.gov.

     

        

     

  • USDA approves $13 million in Bonus Buy of Maine Wild Blueberries after Congressional delegation’s ask

     Maine's Congressional Delegation announced the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will grant up to $13 million for a purchase of up to 30 million pounds of Maine wild blueberries after the Delegation requested the measure earlier this year.  Bonus buys, like this, help protect American farmers from unexpected market conditions by purchasing surplus goods and distributing them to food banks and other charitable institutions.

     
    “We are pleased to announce this important relief for our Maine blueberry growers who have suffered from an oversupply of their produce this season,” wrote Maine’s Congressional Delegation (Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin) in a joint statement. “Our growers have been faced with declining prices and increased competition because of near-record crop sizes in 2014 and 2015.  This is welcome support for our industry in Maine, which provides for more than 3,000 jobs in its peak harvest season.”
     
     

    The money used for surplus removal will be taken from the $222 million that has already been appropriated for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program in Fiscal Year 2016.  This program supports the emergency surplus removals of commodities, which are then distributed to domestic food assistance programs.
     

  • $44 Million in USDA grants available to help agricultural producers increase the value of their products-apply!

     

            

    By Ramona du Houx

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on May 11, 2016 that USDA is making up to $44 million available to farmers, ranchers and businesses to develop new bio-based products and expand markets through the Value-Added Producer Grant program. 

    “I strongly encourage rural Maine agricultural producers to apply for this useful program, which can help provide an advantage in marketing or producing a value-added agricultural product. This type of rural Maine innovation leads to job creation and supports the local economy,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel. 


    Aroostock Hops, LLC, (photos) recieved a Value-Added Producer Grant for $24,413. The grant paid for labor costs and to purchase consumable supplies to produce pelletized hops from fresh hops and to package the pellets in nitrogen-flushed, vacuum-sealed, labeled Mylar bags as well as for marketing and promotional expenses.

    "Our natural curiosity about improving hop yield, quality, and best practices in growing hops organically, coupled with both our backgrounds in science, has led us to investigate some of our hop growing questions using an experimental approach.  We figured there must be lots of other hops farmers, especially in the Northeast, who were asking the same questions as us and would like to know about some of the things we were investigating.

    "Over the years, we have been fortunate to work with a USDA program called Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), which provides grants and education to advance innovations in sustainable agriculture," states Aroostock Hops on their website.

    The USDA grant helped Aroostock Hops partner with the University of Maine, and receive a Maine Technology (MTI) Seed Grant to fabricate a prototype hop harvester. 

    The extra cash needed to turn a creative idea into a marketable product is where a lot of USDA grants have come into play in Maine.

    Agriculture is one of the identified areas FocusMaine— a group of over 50 Maine stakeholders who are dedicated to help grow jobs and the state’s economy.

    "Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote ,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz.

    Secretary Vilsack describes the cultivation of local and regional food systems as one of the four pillars of rural economic development that impacts farm family income and strengthens local economies. 

    “America’s farmers, ranchers and rural business owners are innovative entrepreneurs and this program helps them grow economic opportunities for their families and communities by increasing the value of the items they produce,” said  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The Value-Added Producer Grant program has a great track record of helping producers increase the value of products and expand their markets and customer base, strengthening rural America in the process.”

    Another example of a Maine Value-Added Producer Grant Program award in Cara Sammons, Flying Goat Farm in Acton (photo right). Their grant of $125,000 were be used to pay for packaging materials, labor costs and marketing expenses associated with increasing production as well as hiring personnel to do routine tasks such as cheese room cleaning, packaging, making deliveries to established retail outlets and restaurants, selling cheese at farmers markets, and bookkeeping.

    Value-Added Producer Grants may be used to develop new products and create additional uses for existing ones. Priority for these grants is given to veterans, members of socially disadvantaged groups, beginning farmers and ranchers, and operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches. Additional priority is given to applicants who seek funding for projects that will create or increase marketing opportunities for these types of operators.

    • More information on how to apply is on page 20607 of the April 8th Federal Register.
    • The deadline to submit paper applications is July 1, 2016.
    • Electronic applications submitted through grants.gov are due June 24, 2016. 

    For questions or more information on how to apply, please contact Rural Development Business Programs Specialist Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or brian.wilson@me.usda.gov.

    Value Added cheese produced by Flying Goat Farm

    Value-Added Producer Grants are a key element of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which coordinates the Department’s work to develop local and regional food systems.

    Under Secretary Vilsack, USDA has supported providing consumers a stronger connection to their food with more than $1 billion in investments to over 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects since between 2009.

    Industry data estimates that U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008. 

    Congress increased funding for the Value-Added program in the 2014 Farm Bill, with the help of Congresswoman Chillie Pingree. That law builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.  

    Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 180,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses.

     USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor. 

  • FocusMaine—aims to grow jobs and the economy using Maine’s identified strengths

    By Ramona du Houx

    More than 50 leading figures in Maine’s business, academic and political circles have become committed to ending the state’s economic stagnation. Their group, FocusMaine, aims to work with three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years across the state.

    After FocusMaine concluded it’s first project, a $100,000 survey of Maine’s economic landscape by global research firm McKinsey & Co., the consortium announced the group’s objectives to the press.

    “We thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s let the data drive the process and be the decision maker,’” said Mike Dubyak, chairman of the board of directors for WEX and its former president and CEO.

    “FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz with Dubyak.

    The survey identified three key sectors where jobs would grow exponentially, raising incomes and the quality of life for all of Maine.

    Salmon in a DownEast hatchery. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In aquaculture U.S. fish consumption has risen by 23 percent since 1990, and we import almost 90 percent of select fish products, most of which are farm raised. Maine has many small aquaculture operations; some who don’t want to get any bigger, while others do but they’ll need to build connections with businesses, gain advice and even get to know potential investors. FocusMaine could become the bridge that would connect Maine’s entrepreneurs with the expertise and people they need to know.

    The same could be said for the agriculture sector that has had an influx of young organic famers, but lack connections that could help their operations flourish. The number of farmers aged 34 and younger grew by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, during the same time there was an increase in 1,326 agricultural jobs—during the recession, while other jobs declined.

    There has been 10 percent annual growth in pharmaceutical contract research and manufacturing from 2005 to 2011 in Maine. As a strong biopharmaceutical cluster in Massachusetts continues to expand and their Boston based will need more affordable locations for manufacturing, and Maine fits the bill.

    Dubyak has been avidly working with Pierce Atwood partner Andrea Cianchette-Maker, co-chairwoman of the FocusMaine leadership team with Dubyak to develop Focus Maine, which has dozens of banks, policy-people, business and education leaders on board with the objective to grow Maine’s economy. FocusMaine’s mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs.

    “We have to develop the high priority strategies and which of those would require or benefit from government support,” said Cianchette-Maker.

    Hence there are teams focused on political, academic and research aspects of developing the 10-year plan. Its government advisory group includes former Gov. John Baldacci and former Gov. John McKernan.

    “I'm very proud to be part of this first class team of job creators. The focus isn't trying to be everything to everybody. We’ll take a few key sectors and become the world's best in those fields — agriculture, aquaculture and the life sciences manufacturing. I believe with more jobs in these sectors it will create a picture that ties all Maine together,” said Former Governor John E. Baldacci.

    The principle leaders of FocusMaine have built smaller organizations into larger ones. Hence they are turning their skills to smaller businesses with the potential to expand. The list of over 50 leading Maine figures on FocuMaine’s website speaks volumes about the seriousness of the group.

    “What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    Before Mills worked for the Obama administration she was put in charge of Baldacci’s efforts to boost Maine’s economy by working with lawmakers, stakeholders and researchers focusing on growing cluster areas identified as having potential. She successful helped kick start the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) grant program—Cluster Initiative Program (CIP) for collaborative projects that boost Maine’s high-potential technology-intensive clusters. FocusME received a CIP grant with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

    FocusMaine intends to concentrate on aquaculture first, funded in part through that $100,000 MTI grant. FocusMaine, has already raised about $700,000 in grants and contributions from at least 20 Maine companies and nonprofits.

    There are key reasons why FocusMaine has trade sector jobs in their sights—

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly double the average job in the state. In the trade sector, employees tend to stay longer in the company, then workers in lower paying jobs do. Good paying jobs will help keep young educated Maine workers in the state, too often they leave because of lack of employment opportunities.

    The ripple effect from a worker who spends his earnings in his community helps to support 1.6 additional local jobs. 

    “We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought the state well below the national average of 32 percent.

    “This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs. Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs,” MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak.  

    Some major well known FocusMaine leaders:

    • Michael Dubyak, former WEX Inc. president and CEO (co-chair)
    • Andrea Cianchette Maker, partner at Pierce Atwood (co-chair)
    • Eleanor Baker, Baker Newman Noyes co-founder and principal
    • William Caron Jr., president of MaineHealth
    • John Fitzsimmons, former Maine Community College System president
    • Karen Mills, former U.S. Small Business Administration administrator
    • Robert Moore, president and CEO of Dead River Co.
    • William Ryan, former chairman and CEO of TD Banknorth
    • David Shaw, founder and former CEO of Idexx Laboratories Inc.

     

  • Knox-Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District Beginning Farmer Workshop Series


    INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY BY CONTROLLING INVASIVES AND IMPROVING POLLINATOR HABITAT

    Thu, April 7 from 6-8:30pm

    Knox-Lincoln Extension Office, 377 Manktown Rd, Waldoboro

    FMI & to register for this or other workshops in the series:hildy@knox-lincoln.org; 596-2040; www.knox-lincoln.org/beginning-farmer-2016

    If you would like to increase productivity, control invasives, and improve pollinator habitat - this workshop is for you!

    Nancy Olmstead, Invasive Plant Biologist with Maine Natural Areas Program, will show you how to identify common invasive plants of Maine and discuss management strategies. To restore biodiversity and reclaim degraded areas, Rebecca Jacobs. Landscape designer and proprietor of Gabriella’s Gardens, will present an approach to planting for pollinators and highlight a number of native plant choices that will support many native pollinator species. In addition, Joe DeStefano, beekeeper for Posto Bello Apiaries, will explain the advantages of having a honey beehive on your property and discuss hive positioning and the forage needs of honeybees.

    Following the presentations, Tony and Marianne Marple of Bluefield Farm in Whitefield, who have taken advantage of NRCS cost share programs to manage invasive plants and enhance pollinator habitat, will join the presenters for a Q&A panel.

    This free workshop is part of the Beginning Farmer Workshop Series presented by Knox-Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) in partnership with Erickson fields Preserve/Aldemere Farm and funded by a grant from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

    NRCS and Knox-Lincoln SWCD are equal opportunity providers and employers.

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • Tax breaks to make it easier for farmers, businesses to donate to food pantries passes House

    By Ramona du Houx

    A tax break that Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said will help reduce food waste passed the House on December 17, 2015 as part of a larger package of tax provisions. The provision, which is part of Pingree's Food Recovery Act, creates a permanent "enhanced" tax deduction for businesses and farmers who donate excess food to organizations like food pantries and soup kitchens.

    "This tax break makes it easier and more worthwhile for businesses and farmers to donate excess food to a food pantry," said Pingree. "It will mean less food going to landfills and more food going to feed people struggling with hunger."

    An estimated 40 percent of food produced every year in the United States is wasted, meanwhile nearly 50 million people struggle with hunger.  If food waste is reduced by just 15 percent and good quality, wholesome food is redirected to people in need, the number of hungry Americans could be cut in half.

     An enhanced tax deduction means the taxpayer gets credit for the full value of the food, plus an additional deduction to compensate for the expense and labor of donating the product.  The provision also increases the maximum tax deduction from 10 percent to 15 percent of taxable income.

    The provision in Pingree's Food Recovery Act, was originally introduced in a bill written by Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY). Pingree introduced her Food Recovery Act, a comprehensive package of legislative proposals aimed at reducing wasted food, earlier this month. Please read more HERE.

     

  • $200 Million loan funds available from USDA for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects

    Exeter Agri-Energy utilized a USDA Rural Development REAP Guaranteed Loan along with $500,000 in REAP Grant funds to install an anaerobic digester at Stonyvale Farm, Maine.

    By Ramona du Houx

     USDA Rural Development has approximately $200 million available through the REAP guaranteed loan program for fiscal year 2016 to finance renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Maine’s rural communities.  The agency is now accepting applications from rural small businesses and agricultural producers to compete for $200 million in guaranteed loan funds.

      "This funding opportunity represents substantial potential for rural Maine businesses and agricultural producers to make long-term investments in renewable energy systems and energy-efficiency improvements through a local lender using USDA Rural Development’s REAP guaranteed loan program. This collaboration can help our businesses significantly reduce operating costs, decrease Maine’s independence on foreign oil, and ultimately demonstrate their positive environmental values to their customers and community," said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

    Loan purposes include financing renewable energy systems such as biomass fueled anaerobic digesters and biodiesel production, solar, wind, geothermal, etc., and making energy efficiency improvements such as efficient lighting conversions, motor upgrades, building envelope improvements, HVAC upgrades and more.

    Exeter Agri-Energy utilized a USDA Rural Development REAP Guaranteed Loan along with $500,000 in REAP Grant funds to install an anaerobic digester at Stonyvale Farm, a third generation Maine dairy farm. The energy offset by the system through savings on electricity, heat, and cattle bedding was estimated to be $250,000 annually.

    Stonyvale Farm collects manure from 1,000 milking cows, and processors deliver organic waste to augment and optimize a "special" recipe that serves as the fuel. The careful introduction of organic waste into the digesters, in just the right amount and at just the right time, is part of the unique “edge” that EAE has developed at Stonyvale Farm.

     The system heats the manure/organic mixture to just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and agitates it intermittently over a 15-25 day retention period. At this point the concoction produces an energy-packed supply of biogas, a potent combination of methane and carbon dioxide. A 1,500 horsepower engine burns the biogas, powering a generator that produces enough heat every day to replace 700 gallons of heating oil on average, and 22,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. On an annual basis, that’s enough energy to heat 300 New England homes and enough to power as many as 800 households.

     Funds are being made available through Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Agricultural producers and rural small businesses benefit from available credit, favorable rates and terms, and energy and cost savings.

    Guaranteed loans are available for up to 75 percent of the total eligible project cost, and loan amounts can range from $5,000 to $25 million. The REAP loan guarantee requires that 25 percent of project costs come from other funding sources such as business equity or other borrowed funds, which could include a USDA Rural Development Business & Industry Guaranteed Loan. REAP loan guarantees range from 85 percent for loans of $600,000 and less to 60 percent for loans of more than $10 million. 

    For more information on how to apply, interested rural Maine businesses, agricultural producers, and lenders may contact Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or brian.wilson@me.usda.gov or visit http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/rural-energy-america-program-renewable-energy-systems-energy-efficiency/me.

     

  • Pingree introduces landmark Food Recovery Act aimed to feed America by reducing food waste


    Congresswomen Cheillie Pingree on her farm in Maine.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine ranks 12th in the nation in food insecurity with one in four children going hungry everyday while there is good food being trashed. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has started the ball moving to solve the problem for Maine, and the nation.

    On December 7, 2015 at the Portland Food Co-Op, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced her bill to reduce the amount of food that is wasted each year in the United States.  That piece of legislation, The Food Recovery Act, includes nearly two-dozen provisions to reduce food waste across the economy.

    “I am hoping desperately that this gets the conversation going in Washington. 40 percent of all food produced in the United States each year is wasted," said Pingree. 

    • America increased food waste in 2010 by 16 percent as 33.79 million tons of food were wasted that year - enough to fill the Empire State Building 91 times.
    • Every ton of food wasted results in 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the methane gas that is created at is decomposes.
    • A single restaurant in the U.S. can produce approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste in a year, according to the Green Restaurant Association.

    “Every day, we needlessly waste a staggering amount of perfectly good food and the general public doesn’t even know it’s happening,” said Sarah Lakeman, Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

    Pingree added, "The Food Recovery Act takes a comprehensive approach to reducing the amount of food that ends up in landfills and at the same time reducing the number of Americans who have a hard time putting food on the table."

    Pingree's bill targets wasted food in four areas:

    1. at the consumer level,
    2. in grocery stores and restaurants,
    3. in schools and other institutions,
    4. and on the farm.

    "Wasted food costs us over $160 billion a year in this country," said Pingree.  "That works out to about $125 a month for a family of four. We can save money and feed more Americans if we reduce the amount of food that ends up getting sent to landfills."

    Pingree’s bill would provide new tax deductions for diverting unwanted food to food banks and using inedible food scraps, such as banana peels and eggshells, for compost.

    The bill also provides grant funding to help schools and public institutions make better connections with local farms, including using lower-priced fruits and vegetables that aren’t deemed pretty enough to sell commercially. These “ugly” fruits and vegetables are often trashed when they hold as much value in their nutrients and vitamins as their manikin cousins. The problem has been that farmers don’t have the resources to take the “ugly” fruits and vegetables to food banks or educational institutions. It’s time consuming, so they trash tons of good food, daily. The proposed tax deductions should turn this catastrophe around.

    Pingree was joined by dozens of people representing groups and organizations from throughout Maine. 

    Restaurants often toss scraps into the garbage adding to landfills. But any scrap that is biodegradable can and could be reclaimed by the earth — by composting it. Then that compost will be rich in nutrients to put on gardens in the spring. Some restaurants compost and have their own gardens, like Pingree’s own restaurant. The tax-deductions in her bill would give more restaurants the incentive to compost.

     "Wasting food is bad for the economy, bad for the environment and bad for Americans who are struggling to afford healthy food to feed their families. Congresswoman Pingree is a national leader on sustainable food and farming and I’m glad she’s taking on this huge issue of wasted food," said celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, co-founder of Food Policy Action and owner/chef of Crafted Hospitality.

    Pingree’s bill clarifies that “sell-by” dates on food are only manufacturer suggestions, not dates required by the federal government, which most people assume they are. Those “sell-by” dates do not mean the food is unsafe to eat after that date.

    The irony of the current system is that farmers, restaurants, and supermarkets all want to feed people. But in all these businesses there is unintentional food waste.

    “Connecting farmers to hungry people through incentives to donate food, and recycling waste food when it is no longer usable closes the loop in the system rather than contributing to the conventional linear waste stream,” said Ted Quaday, Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

    “This groundbreaking legislation offers assistance to farmers and retailers, supports food recovery organizations, and helps consumers by clarifying the senseless date labels that appear on foods. It thus achieves many of the goals our clinic has advocated over the past few years and we are thrilled to work in support of its passage,” said Emily Broad Leib, Director of Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. 

    Hannah Semler, of Healthy Acadia's Gleaning Program in Hancock County wrote a statement of support for the legislation."In Maine, and throughout the U.S. as well as other parts of the world, managing excess food from farms is becoming a pathway to food security. Healthy Acadia sees the integration of food waste reduction strategies as a quality management concern for food business, schools, hospitals, food pantries, and household economics. We expect many synergies to come from the Food Recovery Act… and we are grateful to be a part of the conversation.”

  • New federal rules will require grocery stores to keep track of the sources of ground beef



    By Ramona du Houx

    New federal rules will require grocery stores to keep track of the sources of ground beef.

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said the regulations, she pushed for, will help track food-borne illnesses like the antibiotic-resistant salmonella outbreak linked to Hannaford Supermarkets in 2011. 

    "I'm glad USDA has issued these rules that will make it mandatory for retailers to keep track of where the beef they are grinding is coming from—this is something we have been pushing hard for and I'm glad regulators have agreed it's necessary.  As we learned the hard way, the voluntary guidelines that have been in place were just not sufficient when contaminated ground beef ended up in the grocery store," said Pingree.

    The Congresswoman had pushed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to toughen up requirements for retailers to keep careful records of the sources of meat used to produce ground beef in their butcher shops. 

    Pingree, who sits on the committee that oversees the USDA's budget, had asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pushing for better record keeping to allow quick tracing of food-born illnesses related to tainted ground beef.

    Pingree said while the record keeping will help find the source of illnesses from ground beef, the increased use of antibiotics in animal feed continues to put consumers at risk for antibiotic-resistant infections.

    "The particular strain of Salmonella found in the 2011 outbreak was drug resistant, something we are seeing more and more often," said Pingree. "The use of human antibiotics in animal feed has become more and more common and it's leading to new strains of infections that no longer respond to the antibiotics we have.  It's a pretty scary problem."

    The Salmonella linked to the outbreak four years ago was multi-drug resistant.  Although the infections traced to the ground beef responded to some drugs, a number of antibiotics normally used to treat Salmonella proved ineffective with that strain. 

    The incidence of drug resistant infections in farm animals has been on the increase since large-scale cattle, hog and chicken growers started adding antibiotics to feed.  The antibiotics help ward off some of the disease that comes when animals are packed into tighter quarters and fed lower quality feed.  But when antibiotics are given to animals on a daily basis, it doesn’t take long for new, drug-resistant forms of the disease to emerge.

    Pingree is a sponsor of a bill banning the use of antibiotics in animal feed unless they are medically necessary and has pushed federal officials to limit their use.

  • Four rural Maine businesses to receive a total of $247,702 for Value-Added Agricultural Production from USDA

    Locally Grown farm production in Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

     By Ramona du Houx

    USDA is investing nearly $34 million to help 258 businesses nationwide.  In Maine, four rural agribusinesses have been selected to receive Grants for value-added production activities. 

       “This funding will enable farmers and ranchers to develop new products, improve the bottom line for their operations and help create a robust local and regional food system,” said Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Vernita F. Dore. “Value-Added Producer Grants provide capital to enable ag producers to grow their business through diversification. USDA’s support is especially important for beginning farmers and smaller farm operations.”

       In Maine, four rural agribusinesses have been selected to receive a total of $247,702 for value-added production activities.

     “This investment by USDA Rural Development supports the innovation and vision of these four rural Maine agricultural entrepreneurs who are looking to expand marketing opportunities for their value-added agricultural products. These grants will help contribute to the long-term sustainability of each business and aid in retaining and creating jobs in Maine,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

    • Century Elm Farms, dba Boothby's Orchard and Farm located in Livermore has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $48,299. Funds will be used to brand and expand the existing unpasteurized apple cider and winemaking operations through process improvements and enhanced marketing.
    • Maine Top Mill, LLC, located in Waldoboro has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $49,990. Funds will be used to pay for spinning raw alpaca fiber into a very fine yarn with the aid of a marketing campaign and a direct selling e-commerce portal on the company's website. Funds will also be used to produce samples and kits to market.
    • Aroostook Hops, LLC, located in Westfield has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $24,413. Funds will be used to pay for labor costs and to purchase consumable supplies to produce pelletized hops from fresh hops and to package the pellets in nitrogen-flushed, vacuum-sealed, labeled Mylar bags as well as for marketing and promotional expenses.
    • Cara Sammons, dba Flying Goat Farm, located in Acton has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $125,000. Funds will be used to pay for packaging materials, labor costs and marketing expenses associated with increasing production as well as hiring personnel to do routine tasks such as cheese room cleaning, packaging, making deliveries to established retail outlets and restaurants, selling cheese at farmers markets, and bookkeeping.

       Value-Added Producer Grants can be used to develop new agricultural products or additional markets for existing ones. Military veterans, socially-disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers, operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches, and farmer and rancher cooperatives are given priority when applying for these grants.

       Funding of each award announced today is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.  

       Since 2009, USDA has awarded 1,115 Value-Added Producer Grants totaling $154 million. Approximately 18 percent of the grants and 14 percent of total funding has been awarded to beginning farmers and ranchers. During 2015, more than one-third of Value-Added awards went to farmers and ranchers developing products for the local foods sector.

       Value-Added Producer Grants are a key element of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinates the Department’s work on local and regional food systems. These are major contributors to rural economic development. Congress increased funding for the Value-Added program when it passed the 2014 Farm Bill. That measure builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past seven years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.

       Rural Development helped 84 agricultural producers carry out local foods projects in 2014 through almost $8.9 million in Value-Added Producer Grant awards.

         USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor.

     Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA Rural Development's web site at http://www.rd.usda.gov/me.

  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.

  • Pumpkin carving was an Irish tradition that contributed in saving small American farms

    Before the 19th century, Irish carved turnips into lanterns during the Celtic festival of Samhain, believing that the light would keep the spirits away from their homes. When waves of Irish immigrants moved into American cities, the pumpkin became a natural substitute. Pumpkins had always been a symbol of American abundance, growing out of control like weeds. But by the 18th and 19th century, they weren’t a popular food, says Cindy Ott, author of “Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon.” Irish immigrants brought the pumpkins inside as decoration, giving them faces and spooky personas as part of a parlor game.

    “They’re creepy little guys,” Ott said, pointing to 19th century drawings of jack o’lanterns with arms and legs. “It’s like a little personality. It’s not just vegetable.”

    As a result, the gourd lanterns breathed new life into small American farms. By the 1980s and 1990s, harvesting pumpkins turned into a booming local business.

    “It’s that popularity of the jack o’lantern and [pumpkin] pie that helped rejuvenate the small farm,” Ott said. “Harvesting pumpkins was a laborious thing to do in 1742 but now it’s a form of recreation.”

    Pumpkins have flesh high in fiber and beta carotene. Their seeds, delicious when toasted or baked, can be rich in potassium and protein.

    But we didn't eat the vast majority of the 1.91 billion pounds of pumpkins grown in the U.S. in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Instead we, of course, carved faces into them, set them aglow and perhaps left them to sit outside for days. And then we tossed them.

    So carve them on Halloween and make pumpkin soup, bread, pie and all sorts of things the day after!

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • Maine's food self-sufficiency law goes into effect Oct. 15, 2015

    By Ramona du Houx

    A law to encourage food self-sufficiency in the state goes into effect Oct. 15.

    “It is the policy of the state to be food self-sufficient. This law strengthens that policy by encouraging people to grow, process and preserve their own food to feed themselves, their families and their communities,” said Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop (photo right), sponsor of the measure. “It also addresses the current shortage of available farm workers for the many new and expanding small-scale family farms that are taking advantage of the growing local foods movement.”

    The law directs the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to develop and administer an agricultural jobs network. It links farms and facilities that process agricultural products grown in Maine with available workers who are involved in farming or a local food industry, or who are required to perform community service.

    It also directs the department to develop an educational marketing campaign to promote food self-sufficiency by encouraging the public to grow gardens, raise farm animals and preserve garden-grown food.

    The new law also requires the Department of Agriculture to purchase food that is grown, harvested, prepared, processed and produced in Maine when purchasing food for an emergency or supplemental food program for elderly or low-income people whenever possible.

    Hickman is an organic farmer and House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.  He is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Readfield, Winthrop and part of Monmouth.

    (boy admires a watermelon at the Common Ground Fair. Photo by Ramona du Houx)

  • Mobile Bus Market Brings Produce to Lewiston-Auburn, Bath

     

     

    A bus provisioned with food has been driving through the streets of Lewiston, Auburn and Bath providing residents more opportunities to purchase fresh produce.  The old fashioned Maine corner store has disappeared from city centers, replaced by supermarkets, nick-knack stores or upscale shops. 

    "There's often a disconnect between where people live and their transportation situation and can they get to a farmers market. Can they even get to a grocery store?" asked Karen Voci, president of the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. "And this takes it to them and it's going to go to the same stop all the time."

    The Foundation provided a $60,000 grant to the partnered non-profits: Cultivating Community and St. Mary's Nutrition Center for the bus.

     "In 2013 we surveyed actually 64 stores in Lewiston where you could buy food to take home," said Kirsten Walter of the St. Mary's Nutrition Center. "And of those 64 stores, only seven offered a variety of healthy foods. And in fact, the ones that were easily accessible by walking and by bus were up to 40 percent more expensive for that same healthy food."

    It’s difficult to find fresh fruits and vegetables downtown. 

    "A healthy community also has a robust economy, and much of the food is actually coming from Maine farms, and we're particularly excited about that synergy," said Craig LaPine of Cultivating Community during the inaugurals bus run in September. He said the food bus is an important step toward improving the community's health.

    The bus will visit designated stops Wednesdays through Fridays through October, then will start back up in the spring.

  • U.S. Rep. Pingree sponsors bill to help farm to school programs

    School gardens, local food would gain support in bipartisan bill

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has signed on to an effort to increase funding for important farm to school programs.  The bill would triple funding for an already successful USDA program that puts more local food in schools and helps schools support food-based educational programs like school gardens, cooking classes and farm field trips.

    "Maine is already doing a great job on this front," said Pingree.  "Over 40 percent of schools have a garden and over 80 percent are buying some local food.  But the demand is much higher than the available funding, and with a little help these programs could expand."

    Pingree is cosponsoring the H.R. 1061 Farm to School Act of 2015, which was introduced by Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH). 

    Some of the provisions of the bill include:

    • Increasing annual mandatory funding from $5 million to $15 million to better meet the high demand and need for this funding;
    • Fully including preschools, summer food service program sites and after school programs for farm to school funding
    • Improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. 

    "Getting local food into schools is a win for everyone.  Kids get fresh, healthy meals and our local farm economies get a boost, which keeps more money and jobs in our local communities," Pingree said.

  • Locally grown food for UMaine campuses offers sustainable food path and helps farmers

    Photos and article by Ramona du Houx

    The “Maine Food for the UMaine System” coalition released its recommendations to the University of Maine System for its upcoming food contract, backed by more than 150 Maine producers, 50 individuals and organizations, and 1,500 students and University of Maine System community members. 

    The number of Maine farms has increased to 8,174, up from 7,196 in 2002. This growth coincides with renewed consumer interest in locally grown foods.

    “Maine’s local foods economy has grown in leaps and bounds over the last decade, which was the last time the University of Maine System signed a food contract.” said John Piotti, President of Maine Farmland Trust. “The University of Maine System has a tremendous opportunity in its upcoming food contract to take advantage of, and further catalyze, Maine’s local foods movement.”

    As restaurant tours and cooking classes increase, accross the state so has the demand for locally grown food, and serving the UMaine system would be a natural fit for many farmers. Most of the problem for a farmer is getting their goods to markets far away. WIth the UMaine system spread out accorss the state, there will be more opportunities for local farmers.

    The University of Maine System (UMS) will put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a new food service vendor contract this coming month, and will accept proposals from Vendors in late 2015. UMS’s current contract, which will come to a close at the end of the 2015-16 academic year, was a ten-year, $12.5 million annual contract with the food service corporation Aramark. The current contract is for to all of the campuses except for the main campus in Orono, which operates its own food service.  

    “Up here in Aroostook, there are a number of farmers like myself who are ready to go on selling to the University,” explained Sam Blackstone, a fourteenth-generation farmer from Caribou whose family began farming in England in the early 1600s. “If the University System made a commitment to spending some of its food dollars locally, and partnering with farmers like myself, that could be a gamechanger.”

    Locally grown food has become more accessable and desirable. Approximately 100 Maine farms that will participated in Open Farm Day in July and 58 percent of tourists  cited food and/or beverages as a reason for staying overnight in Maine, according to a 2014 Maine Office of Tourism.

    The recommendations by the “Maine Food for the UMaine System” coalition, submitted to the UMS Office of Strategic Procurement and the Food Service Request for Proposal Committee, set four high-priority recommendations: a quantitative commitment to 20 percent Maine Food and 20 percent ‘Real Food’ by 2020; the establishment of a UMS Food Working Group; transparent tracking and metrics; and a commitment to a supply chain partnership with Maine producers. The recommendations also detail suggestions for sustainability expectations, equity and diversity, menu planning, and education and marketing.

    “The Maine Food for the UMaine System recommendations reflect a shared vision for what Maine’s public university system can achieve,” said Riley Neugebauer, Farm to College Coordinator with Farm to Institution New England.  

    More than 1,500 students, faculty and community members of the University of Maine System across six campuses have supported the Maine Food for the UMaine System effort.

     “Students across the University of Maine System want to know where our food comes from. Local, regional and ‘Real Food’ offer great value to students, chefs, faculty and community members. We want to be proud of the University System supporting Maine farmers and purchasing food that’s grown and produced in a just, fair, sustainable way," said Bobbi-Jo Oatway, a junior at the University of Maine Presque Isle.

      “Maine’s local foods movement is a bright spot in our economy, and more and more young people are choosing farming as a viable career. The University of Maine System has a pivotal role to play in shaping the future of Maine’s farms and fisheries, and we can make a big difference by being smart and strategic about shifting our purchasing policies,” said Mark Lapping, Professor and former Provost of the University of Southern Maine, who served as the Principal Investigator of the Maine Food Strategy.  

    More than 150 Maine producers also signed onto a letter of support that encouraged the University of Maine System to adopt Maine purchasing goals and to involve and communicate more directly with producers each year.

    Mary Margaret and Gene Ripley are first-generation, organic farmers from Dover-Foxcroft who signed the letter.  Mary explained that the University of Maine has an opportunity to help shape markets through a commitment to local food.

    “For farms like Ripley Farm, the University of Maine making a commitment to supporting Maine farmers would give us the confidence to make investments on scaling up our operations,” said Ripley, “Our farm is right on the cusp of being able to supply institutions, and we’d be thrilled to provide food for Maine students.”  

    “The University of Maine System should reflect and contribute to our state’s strengths,” concluded Sam Birch, a rising junior at the University of Maine Farmington. “This is a win-win-win opportunity for Maine’s farmers, the University System, and students.”

    Maine Food for the UMaine System is a coalition made up of organizations and individuals who are working to build a stronger and more sustainable, fair and resilient food system in Maine. The steering committee organizations are Farm to Institution New England, Maine Farmland Trust, Real Food Challenge, and Environment Maine.

     

  • Pingree introduces amendment to stop DARK Act - the GMO promotion bill

    Organic farm tour, photo by Ramona du Houx 

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has introduced an amendments to strike parts of a controversial bill- the DARK ACT - that would limit the ability of states like Maine to require labeling of GMO ingredients in food.  What DARK Act would overturn laws in Maine and other states relating to GMO ingredients and GMO crops.

    "This is really an anti-consumer, anti-right-to-know bill that would prevent families from making intelligent choices about whether or not they want to buy food with GMO ingredients," Pingree said.  "It takes choices away from consumers and rights away from states and Congress should reject it."

    The bill, H.R. 1599, would make it illegal for states to pass laws requiring GMO labeling and would block laws that have already been passed from being enforced.  Maine was the second state in the country to pass a GMO labeling law, which takes effect if five other states in the region also adopt similar legislation.

    Pingree's amendment strikes the dangerous parts of the bill—effectively blocking the DARK Act from taking effect—while keeping the provision that requires USDA to create a non-GMO certification program and label. 

    "The DARK Act is just what Big Food and Monsanto want," Pingree said.  "But nine out of ten consumers say they support GMO labeling, so it sure isn't what the public wants.  GMO crops lead to the increased use of herbicides like Roundup and that's something a lot of consumers don't want to support."

     

  • Women Farmers hold panel in Maine with Congresswoman Pingree and USDA Deputy Secretary Harden

    Left to right: USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (far left) listen as women panelists share their ideas and opinions on how women can be better supported in agricultural activities. From left to right women farmers are: Laura Neale, Alice Percy, Jean Koons, Gina Simmons and Marada Cook. 

    By Ramona du Houx

    “This Panel created a valuable opportunity to bring together experts and decision-makers to discuss the robust future for women farmers in Maine, and the vital programs, such as those offered by USDA Rural Development that supports them in their renewable energy and energy and energy-efficiency projects and value-added producer and food processing activities," said Virginia Manuel, Maine’s first female State Director of USDA Rural Development, who comes from three generations of Aroostook County farmers. On June 30, 2015 she introduced the Women in AG Panel discussion at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport. 

     The panelists, joined by over 70 people, discussed access to capital, marketing, growing competition, and distribution of their products, among the challenge of operating a farm or agricultural business in Maine.

    “We want to make sure the programs work - are flexible, are creative enough and are there for folks who need them. There is a new awakening for women (in farming),” said USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, invited to Maine by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

     With a growing number of farms in Maine farms have increased to 8,173 farms up from 7,196 in 2002. About 29 percent of Maine’s farmers are women, up 4 percent from  2007. 

      In recent years, USDA Rural Development has seen an increase in the number of women applying for and receiving funding through two programs that assist Maine farmers, agricultural businesses, and producers- the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which promotes the installation of renewable energy and energy-efficient systems, and the Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG), which helps producers add value to locally grown products.

      Women-owned or co-owned farms and agribusinesses that have recently received assistance through USDA Rural Development programs include: 

    • Northern Girl, Van Buren, $350,000 to construct a new facility
    • Cozy Acres Greenhouse, North Yarmouth, $48,750 to construct a zero carbon footprint solar and geothermal greenhouse for the growing of plants and vegetables for the community.
    • Broadturn Farm, Inc., Scarborough, $8,062 for the purchase and installation of a renewable energy GARN biomass system.
    • SuriPaco, LLC, Yarmouth, $12,450 for business planning and marketing for a specialty, high-end luxury alpaca fiber in the textile market through a mid-tier value chain. 
    • Keena Tracy, of Little Ridge Farm, in Lisbon $4,554 for a solar system.
    • Hutchings Greenhouse, Eddington, $5,850 for a geothermal heat pump system.
    • Tide Mill Organics $49,770 to provide working capital for this small family farm so they can increase production and expand sales of their packaged organic poultry from roughly 11,500 to 20,000 birds annually.
    • Amy Sprague of Wolf Pine Farm, in Alfred, $4,842 to install 28 solar panels to the barn.
    • Cara Sammons of Flying Goat Farm, Acton, $4,961 to install a solar system at a small rural goat farm.
    • JG SL Partners, Freeport, $5,590 to install a solar system.
    • Haulk’s Maple, in Madison, $7,370, to assist with the purchase and installation of a new, more efficient evaporator.

       Women in AG panelist in the Wolfe’s Neck Farm session this week and co-owner of Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative Marada Cook has also seen her farm products benefit from USDA Rural Development funding through assistance which helped Northern Girl build a new vegetable processing facility in Van Buren.

    “Our food-safe processing facility was built through the support of Rural Business Development Grant funds and the Town of Van Buren. We hold a long term lease with the Town of Van Buren. This facility and its location close to our growers allow us to create jobs in Northern Aroostook and buy more Aroostook County crops. Without this program it is unlikely as a start-up that we could have constructed a facility to meet today’s food safety standards,” said Cook.

      USDA Rural Development offers assistance to woman farmers through the REAP and VAPG Programs, and funding is available. To apply for funding or learn more, interested farmers or agribusiness owners should contact Chery Pelletier (REAP) at 764-4157 or Cheryl.pelletier@me.usda.gov or Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or brian.wilson@me.usda.gov (VAPG). 

       USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.

     

     

     

  • Bill to promote Maine farmland restoration wins initial House approval

    Farm at Hinkley in Farfield, Maine. Students learn agreculture at the Hinkley school, photo by Ramona du Houx

     A proposed bill to increase farmland restoration won initial approval Friday in the Maine House by a vote of 78-62

    “This bill would help farmers expand acreage for farming and grow more nutritious, locally produced food for the people of Maine,” said Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, a co-sponsor of the bill and House chair of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. “It’s a win-win plan that takes advantage of private funding, federal grants and bond proceeds to restore Maine’s abundant farmland.”

    The bill, LD 1041, establishes the Farmland Restoration Program and the Farmland Restoration Fund and authorizes the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Department to set up rules to implement both. The measure’s primary sponsor is Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville.

    Maine has the most acreage suitable for farming in New England, but much of it requires clearing or other work to be ready to farm. The bill would allow that to happen in a sustainable and environmentally prudent way.

    “It’s important to act as good stewards of our farmland and be proactive on issues like soil erosion,” said Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, another co-sponsor and House chair of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “This would be a good step forward for farming in Maine.”

    The Maine Farm Bureau, Maine Organic Farmers Association, the Maine Farmland Trust and the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society are all in support of the legislation.

    The bill now faces further action in both the House and Senate. 

    Hickman is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Winthrop and Readfield.

    Welsh is serving her fourth term in the Maine House and represents Camden, Rockport and Islesboro.

  • Union solidarity at BIW in Maine

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

    By Ramona du Houx

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally to promote solidarity during the year before the union’s contract expires.

    “The union is behind its leadership, and the company is going to have to negotiate with us and not dictate to us," said Jay Wadleigh, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6. “They need to abide by the contract, stop misleading the media and just work with us so we can get the costs of these ships down. We’re the best shipbuilders in the world. We want to work. We just want to be treated with dignity and respect and be negotiated with and not dictated to.”

    BIW is known as one of the best shipbuilders in America. It's slogan is "Bath Built is Best Built."

    This is the second big march at the shipyard this year. On March 24 nearly 1,000 members of the International Association of Machinists Union Local marched to rallying support and protesting a variety of proposed BIW changes.

    Caps on defense spending have resulted in fewer Naval contracts thus spurring the BIW changes including outsourcing work and cross-training employees.

    BIW says the measures will increase the shipyard’s efficiency and keep the costs of building destroyers competitive. The shipyard insists it needs to be competitive to win two bidding contracts. But the union says there are better ways to cut costs. The stalemate has resulted in a third-party arbitration and a federal lawsuit charging BIW with violating its contract with workers.


    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

  • White House plan to save honeybees before it's too late- still needs pesticide limits

    A honeybee collects pollen on a flower
     Honeybees, both domestic and wild, are responsible for 80 percent of the world’s pollination according to a Greenpeace report. Photograph: George D Lepp/Corbis

    The White House has announced an ambitious plan to “promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators” in the United States in a bid to help reverse a worrying trend that has seen the honeybee population fall by half over the last seven decades.

    It includes making millions of acres of federal land more bee-friendly, an explicit ambition to increase the population of the monarch butterfly, and the provision of millions of dollars to be spent on research.

    "The decline of these species is a serious problem and is a threat to the health of our country's agricultural system," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "Bees and monarchs add $15 billion in value every year to the crops they help pollinate, and if these species disappear there are a lot of farms that could disappear with them." 

    The plan announced by the Obama Administration today sets a goal of dramatically reducing honey bee die-offs from the current 40 pecent a year to 15 percent and increasing the population of migrating monarch butterflies from the current 33 million to 220 million by 2020.  In 1994, an estimated 1 billion butterflies migrated to a mountain forest in Mexico.

    A third of what we eat on our plate would disappear without bees according to the federal government.

     Two of the most commonly used reasons for the mass decline of honey bees are loss of habitat, which today’s plan expressly addresses, and widespread use of toxic pesticides, which it does to a far lesser degree.

    "One missing link in this strategy is the effect of pesticides and herbicides on pollinators," Pingree said.  "Increasingly, pesticides are being linked to death of honey bees and the wide-spread use of Roundup on GMO crops has wiped out milkweed and monarch butterflies are disappearing as a result." 

    Pingree has been a vocal critic of the use of genetically modified crops that are designed to resist herbicides like glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup).   

    Last year, research emerged from Harvard University showing that when colonies of honeybees were exposed insecticide around the world, half of them died. More needs to be done to protect honeybees.

    Honeybees, both domestic and wild, are responsible for 80 percent of the world’s pollination according to a report by Greenpeace.

  • Conservation Law Foundation’s free legal help for Maine famers

    Apple farm ride. Photo by Ramona du Houx 

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Conservation Law Foundation launched an initiative on May 18th that provides pro bono legal assistance to local farmers, food entrepreneurs and the organizations.

    The new Maine Legal Services Food Hub gives pro bono legal advice on leases, incorporation, trademarking and more.

    "The program primarily helps out with transactional issues, so legal issues around contracting, land transitioning, choice of entity issues," said Ben Tettlebaum with the foundation says the program intended to help those who otherwise could not afford legal assistance.

    The Legal Services Food Hub aims to scale up the local food system by taking some of the pressure off small-scale farmers and others in Maine's food production business.

    A pilot project has been underway in Washington County.

    "As soon as anybody set foot on the property you have a liability issue, as soon as you sell any product from the farm you have a liability issue, and food safety issues," said Norma Vela, who runs a diversified family farm and is part of the pilot program. “It’s been really helpful taking part, learning about these issues.”

     

    To qualify for the program, a participant needs to earn less than $30,000 a year.

  • Proposed law to expand Maine farms and local food markets move forward

    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.

  • Maine Bumble Bee Atlas (MBBA) project will train you May 16th

     In order to document the diversity, distribution and abundance of bumble bees in Maine, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (MDIFW) has initiated the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas (MBBA) project. Designed as a multi-year statewide survey, the project is being coordinated by MDIFW in partnership with the University of Maine at Orono and Farmington. Closely modeled after MDIFW’s highly successful Maine Butterfly Survey (2007–2015) and Maine Damselfly and Dragonfly Survey (1999-2005), the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas will marshal the efforts of volunteer citizen scientists from across Maine to greatly increase our knowledge on the status of the state’s bumble bees.

    Maine Bumble Bee Atlas Keeping Track of Maine's Native Pollinators 2015 MBBA Volunteer Training Workshop -

    Saturday May 16 (9am - 3pm) 

    University of Maine at Orono

    Registration Required Contact Beth Swartz - MBBA Coordinator beth.swartz@maine.gov

     Bumble bees, with their bold yellow and black stripes, large furry bodies and relatively docile dispositions, are a familiar backyard insect to most people. The important role they play in our environment, however, often goes unrecognized. Bumble bees are an essential component of pollination for flowering plants throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

    They pollinate many of our spring and summer wildflowers, as well as a wide variety of other plants, including most garden flowers, fruits and vegetables. This ecosystem service is key to maintaining not only cultivated crops for human use, but also native plant communities which provide habitat for Maine’s diverse wildlife species. Unfortunately, some North American bumble bee species have experienced significant population declines during the last few decades.

    Several species, including four native to Maine, were once very common throughout their ranges but are now rarely observed. Various factors are believed to be contributing to these declines, including habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticides, and diseases and parasites introduced through widespread use of commercially raised bumble bees. These same declines have likely also occurred in Maine, but because we have so little information about our bumble bee fauna it is difficult to assess the status of the 17 species known to live here.

    To read an indepth article about the situation and what's being done in Maine click HERE.

  • Maine lawmakers move forward on bill to require GMO L]labelling


    Bill with Widespread Bi-Partisan and Grassroots Support to Get Public Hearing on April 30


    By Ramona du Houx

    Supporters of a genetically modified organisms (GMO's labelling requirement in Maine moved another step closer to their goal yesterday, as the legislature referenced LD 991: An Act To Amend Maine's Genetically Modified Food Products Labeling Law to the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry.

    A public hearing on the bill has been scheduled for April 30, 1 p.m. at the state house in Augusta.

    “Mainers are looking forward to the opportunity to weigh in on this proposal," said Michelle Dunphy, the bill’s lead sponsor. "A poll released last month showed that 97 percent of Mainers support the right to know if the foods they choose to eat contain genetically modified organisms.”

    The proposed law, LD 991, would require foods distributed in Maine to include a label if GMO's were used to produce the final product. Exempt from the requirement are restaurants, medical food, and alcoholic beverages.

    “Mainers overwhelmingly support the right to know if the food they put on the dinner table every night contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs)," said Katherine Paul,  associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) - a consumer advocacy group that promotes food safety initiatives on behalf of more than one million consumers, including 25,000 network members in Maine.

    "They do not want to have to wait for New Hampshire to pass a similar law, in order obtain that right—especially in light of the recent (March 2015) announcement by the World Health Organization that Monsanto’s Roundup, sprayed on 84 percent of GMO crops, is a probable human carcinogen.”

    Sixty-seven countries that represent 65 percent of the world’s population have already embraced transparency through GMO labelling. "We believe that Maine is ready to lead the nation and adopt this common-sense requirement to ensure that we have a choice in the types of foods we decide to feed to our families,” Paul said.

    In 2013, Maine legislators passed a law that would require labeling for foods that contain genetically modified organisms, but only if five contiguous states passed a similar requirement first. This effectively allows Maine to be held hostage on this issue until New Hampshire decides to pass a similar law.

    LD 991 is supported by Republicans and Democrats serving in both the House and the Senate. These legislators have joined forces in sponsoring this initiative that is part of a growing national movement towards a more cognitive approach to healthy food practices.

    The public hearing will be on Thursday, April 30th at 1 p.m. in the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

  • Federal grant for 2 Maine organizations to increase access to healthy, local food

    Photo of Maple Syrup production on a Madison farm by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Two Maine organizations have been awarded funding through the USDA's Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI), a new program that was proposed in Congresswoman Pingree's Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, and included in the Farm Bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2014. 

    Maine Farmland Trust, based in Belfast, was awarded a FINI  grant for $249,816. The grant will incentivize SNAP customers to purchase fruits and vegetables grown by Maine farmers. The project will ensure that low-income Mainers have access to affordable and nutritious food, while providing an expanded market for local farmers. The economic impact from this grant alone is estimated to be $1 million, according to Maine Farmland Trust.

    "I am thrilled that Maine Farmland Trust was awarded this grant from the Department of Agriculture," said Pingree. "Programs like FINI bridge the gap between low-income consumers and farmers, create good jobs, and help revitalize Maine's rural communities."

    A second FINI grant will go to national nonprofit Wholesome Wave, which will coordinate fresh produce incentive programs at markets throughout Maine and will work with local partners, including Maine Farmland Trust, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Cultivating Community, Food and Medicine, Healthy Acadia, Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets, and St. Mary's Nutrition Center. 

    "85 markets in Maine, connecting tens of thousands of farmers and consumers, will benefit from the two FINI grants," added Pingree.  

    The Congresswoman is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and sits on the Agriculture Subcommittee, which sets the budget for the Department of Agriculture.  

    Rep. Pingree has become a national leader on local food and agriculture issues, and has been a strong advocate of programs that increase access to healthy, local foods.  She wrote the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which increased funding for programs that support local and sustainable farms and farmers.

  • Rep. Dunphy introduces bill to require ME labeling of genetically modified food

    A boy checks out an orgaincally grown watermellon at the Common Ground Fair in Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle joined Rep. Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town, at the State House March 19, 2015, in support of her bill to require the labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients.

    “The idea behind my bill very simple,” said Rep. Dunphy.  “Mainers have a right to know what is in the food we feed our families.”

    Sixty-seven countries that represent 65 percent of the world’s population have already embraced transparency through GMO labelling. 

    “We believe that Maine is ready to lead the nation, and adopt this common-sense requirement to ensure that we have a choice in the types of foods we decide to feed to our children,” said Katherine Paul, Associate Directior of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). 

    Dunphy was joined by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s Deputy Director Heather Spalding and Paul, in support of labeling food containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. 

    “For decades, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has been leading the fight in Maine for good food, good farming and demanding transparency in labeling food made from GMO crops,” said Spalding, who also pointed out that beverage labels have successfully accommodated Maine’s bottle deposit law as evidence that food distributors can tailor labels to state law.

    The measure builds on a 2013 law that requires genetically modified organisms to be labelled in food and seed products, but only if four other states in the Northeast pass similar measures first.  Dunphy’s bill would repeal the trigger, which would make labels mandatory at the time the law goes into effect. 

    “As a mom and a lawmaker, I don’t believe we should have to wait for other states to act before we have access to this information,” said Rep. Dunphy (photo above.)  “The vast majority of Maine citizens want food with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled so that we can make informed decisions.”

    The bill, LD 911, has been referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.  It will be scheduled for a public hearing in the coming weeks.

     Dunphy is serving her first term in the Maine House.  She represents Old Town and Penobscot Indian Island.

  • PUC gives in to LePage, reverses wind energy contracts

    Kibby Wind Farm, in Western Maine, opened in 2010 and has given thousands back to the communities it serves with programs and TIFF's- tax incentives.  Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Top Maine lawmakers in the State House denounced the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state's energy regulator that is mandated not to make political decisions,  for caving to Governor Paul LePage’s demands to reopen bids on two approved wind contracts. 

    The three-member commission, which is supposed to be independent, reversed its decision in a 2-1 vote. The PUC previously approved contract terms with SunEdison and NextEra for wind projects in Hancock County and Somerset County. That approval allowed the parties to begin negotiating final contracts with Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Maine. A lot of work they never would have undertaken if they new LePage was going to pull the plug on. The contracts, which were approved two months ago, would have helped to lower electric costs for Maine consumers by $69 million and create jobs.

    “The Public Utilities Commission is meant to serve the public’s interest – not the governor’s ideology. Maine should be open for all businesses – not just the businesses the governor favors,” said House Speaker Mark Eves. “He is throwing away real energy savings and jobs that Maine needs. Just as we saw when he meddled with StatOil, he is putting hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investment in our state at risk.”

    Newly appointed PUC Commissioner Carlie McLean - former legal counsel to LePage  - joined the Commission’s Chair and LePage appointee Mark Vannoy to reverse the decision. Commissioner David Littell voted against the re-opening the bid.

    “I’m disappointed to see Commissioner McLean overturn a decision with so little evidence and put future energy business contracts in jeopardy,” said Mark Dion, House Chair of the Legislature’s Energy Utilities and Technology Committee. “This creates an unpredictable environment for future business contracts.”

    According to a letter from LePage to the Commission obtained by MPBN,  LePage attempted to persuade the commissioners to ignore language in the law that directs them to consider new renewable energy sources.

    LePage wrote, "I request that you expand your current request for proposals to include any clean resource, including existing hydropower and nuclear, and review whether these potential contracts could have benefits for the ratepayers in Maine and our broader economy." 

    Nearly 50 individuals and businesses submitted comments warning that re-opening the bid would create economic uncertainty.

    “Shame on the PUC and Gov. LePage for once again yanking the welcome mat out from under two substantial businesses. Broken promises like these do nothing to reassure business that their capital is welcome here. In fact, decisions like these tarnish our reputation and scare off future opportunities,” said State Senator Dawn HIll.

     Statoil, which promised to invest $120 million to develop offshore wind technology in Maine took its investments overseas to Scotland, because LePage pushed through legislation that took away a contract Statoil had made with the PUC.

  • A $750,000 federal grant to help train new farmers in Maine

    Cultivating Community will use investment to help teach farming skills to new immigrants

    Photo of Maine farm and article by Ramona du Houx

    Portland-based Cultivating Community will be getting a $750,000 federal grant to give new immigrants the agricultural skills they need to start their ownfarm businesses.

    "Farming in Maine is growing," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. "More young people and women are taking up farming and new immigrants are adding diversity to our agricultural sector. That trend is helping us rebuild and grow our farm economy.  And that's good for everyone because it not only gives consumers more access to fresh, local food but it also keeps our food dollars right here in our communities.  This grant is going to go a long way toward helping with these great, innovative programs to give new immigrants the skills they need to be productive members of our local agricultural economy."

    Pingree has become a national leader on local food and agriculture issues, and has been a strong advocate of programs that recruit and train new farmers.  She wrote the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which increased funding for programs that support local and sustainable farms and farmers.

    Cultivating Community has been awarded a $750,000 grant under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program to continue a program called "Growing Together," which provides land-based training to new farmers in Maine--mostly socially-disadvantaged and limited-resource immigrants. The project will also build the capacity of many farmer-serving organizations across the state. 

    Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and sits on the Agriculture Subcommittee, which sets the budget for the Department of Agriculture. 

    Craig Lapine, Executive Director for Cultivating Community, said the grant will help expand the Maine farming sector.

    "Maine is a great place for small farmers and a welcoming community for new farmers from all over—from around Maine, around the United States and new immigrants from other countries.  What we are doing is helping those farmers who are new to this country and come from different agricultural traditions learn the skills they need to do business here and be part of our farm economy," Lapine said.

     

  • Ramona du Houx exhibits lightgraphs at Berry’s in Waterville, Maine

     

    By Morgan Rogers

     

    The inside gallery at Berry's Stationers 153 Main St, downtown Waterville, features the artwork, Ramona du Houx, until December 30, 2014. 

    Ramona du Houx creates fine art photography that looks like watercolor paintings evoking mystery and a sense of wonder. Many find them nostalgic and some mystical.

    Ramona is currently represented by Gallery Storks of Tokyo, Japan and is also a member of the Maine Artist Collaborative where she exhibits regularly at the Constellation Gallery in Portland, Maine.

     “For me art reflects where we live in our communities, as well as where an artist is in their heart, mind and soul,” said Ramona. “In 1979 I began to paint with my camera to depict the interconnectedness of nature. I took the initial results to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where they recorded them long ago. The continuing results have been unpredictable, intriguing, and thought provoking.” 

    The watercolor technique is always a challenge.

    “I never know exactly what the results will be, that’s the exciting part of the creation,” said du Houx. “I believe every photograph has an audience, someone the work will speak to personally.”

    Berry’s show space offers local artists a friendly venue to exhibit their work and a way to continue to grow Waterville’s creative economy. With Colby College’s new museum, and Common Street Arts, Waterville is gaining attention as a place to visit for art.

    “We believe in our community and holding shows for artists can help grow the creative economy of Waterville,” said Michael, owner of Berry's Stationers.

    Dream Sail by Ramona du Houx

    Customers rely on the quality work of the Berry's Stationers art suppliers and framers. They entrust the craftspeople who work there with precious mementos to create a unique way to display it for their lifetimes.

    Berry's Stationers team matches mat colors and frames for any job they work on and they always take the time to listen to customers to ensure they get what they are looking for. Michael bought the business back in the 70’s. He’s a perfectionist in his framing craft and an avid photographer.

    "Matching up someone’s art with the right mat and frame gives me a lot of pleasure. Finding out exactly what the customer needs and then succeeding makes it so worthwhile,” said Michael. 

    While other framers have closed their doors due to big box stores and chains, The Berry's Stationers continues. The quality customer service and extra care he and his father take in framing creates prized items for many people.

    Berry's Stationers is open Monday thru Friday from 9:00am - 5:00pm. And Saturday from 9:00-3.00pm. And until Christmas they are open on Sundays.

    For more of Ramona’s photography please visit: HERE 

     

  • Rally against a Monsanto backed bill that would kill Maine’s GMO labeling law

    Congresswoman Pingree talks to supporters of state's efforts to have their own GMO labeling laws

    By Ramona du Houx

    Consumers, farmers, states’ rights and consumer rights activists traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a scheduled hearing and protest a bill that would preempt states’ rights to pass laws requiring the mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree spoke to hundreds of people from around the country who gathered to oppose a bill called the “Deny Americans the Right-to-Know” or DARK Act that would essentially ban state GMO labeling laws.

    "You are here representing the 90 percent of American people who want to know what's in their food," said Pingree at the rally.  "Thank you for making your voices heard."

    The Maine law, passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor LePage this year, would require GMO labeling when five nearby states also adopt similar requirements.

    “We believe states should have the ability to pass laws that are not pre-empted by Congress making deals with corporations,” said Maine State Representative Charlotte Warren from Hallowell. 

    Currently 64 other countries around the world require labeling of GMO food.  Polling shows nearly all Americans support a similar requirement, but large corporations, like Monsanto, that produce GMOs have fought labeling laws and support the DARK Act.

     “The message from consumers around the country is loud and clear: They want to know what’s in their food and they don’t want Congress stepping in to block efforts in states like Maine to require GMO labeling. This bill is a desperate attempt by Monsanto and their supporters to keep the public from knowing when they are buying a GMO product,” said Pingree.

    H.R. 4432, the DARK Act, was introduced in April by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.). It was written with help from the biotech and processed food industries to protect corporate profits.  If passed, the bill would give sole authority to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to stipulate labeling requirements for foods containing genetically modified organism (GMOs). Groups that oppose the bill argue that under the U.S. Constitution, states and municipalities have the right to pass food labeling laws to protect the health of their citizens.

    “Every citizen in this country, regardless of political affiliation, should be extremely concerned when Congress allows corporations to write laws, and those laws tromp on the rights of consumers and the constitutional rights of state and local governments to pass their own laws to protect their citizens and communities,” said Ronnie Cummins, International Director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) whose organization along with a collation put the rally together.

    In May 2014, Vermont passed a stand-alone GMO labeling law. Maine and Connecticut have passed similar laws, but those laws can’t be enacted unless four or five contiguous states also pass mandatory GMO labeling bills. H.R. 4432 would make that impossible, leaving the laws in Maine and Connecticut essentially dead. The outcome another GMO labeling initiative in Oregon, Measure 92, that was on the November ballot is currently unknown until a recount is complete.

    The OCA organized and promoted the protest with a large collation including: Friends of the Earth, Credo, Cornucopia Institute, Food & Water Watch, Mercola.com, Dr. Bronner’s, GMO Action Alliance, Label GMOs, March Against Monsanto, Moms Across America, Weston Price Foundation, Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, GMO Free USA, Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, Green America/GMO Inside, MoveOn.org, Food Democracy Now, Maine Sierra Club, Health-Liberty Coalition, and many state GMO Free groups. 

    The groups organized buses from across the country, including from New Jersey; Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maine, Chicago, West Virginia, Indiana, New York, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. The trip from Maine was canceled due to weather.

     

  • First Circuit Court determines young adults remain covered under ACA in Maine

    The state of Maine must provide Medicaid coverage to several thousand low income 19- and-20-year-old young adults according to a ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. 

    "We deny the petition for review and find no constitutional violation," wrote the Court in it’s determination.

    Maine Attorney General Janet Mills agreed that the federal government's action was appropriate.

    Maine tried to drop the young adult coverage in 2012, but the federal Department of Health and Human Services disapproved. That’s when the state petitioned for review on constitutional grounds.

    The First Circuit found that a state's ability to set conditions of eligibility for participation in a federal health insurance program is "not a core sovereign state function."

    Furthermore the federal Health and Human Services Secretary said that the state was a violation of the Affordable Care Act, which requires states accepting Medicaid funds to maintain their eligibility standards for children until 2019. 

    "Maine has covered these young adults for over 20 years, and dropping the coverage now clearly violates the provisions of the AffordableCare Act," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "This is good news for thousands of low-income 19- and 20-year olds who faced theloss of health care coverage." 

    Pingree wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebellius in 2012 urging the rejection of the state's waiver, saying "elimination of Medicaid coverage would not only adversely affect the health and wellbeing of Maine residents and upset Maine’s local economies, it would also be in direct violation of the maintenance of effort requirement, even in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling."

  • Congressional effort to block approval of‘ Agent Orange’ toxic weed-killer

    New genetically engineered crops could increase use of ‘Agent Orange’ compound
    By Ramona du Houx
    With just weeks before a final decision is to be made, 50 members of Congress, led by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reject new GE herbicide-resistant crops and the subsequent use of extraordinarily potent weed-killer designed to kill the “superweeds” that have adapted to withstand Monsanto’s RoundUp.
    "The introduction of Roundup Ready GE crops in the 90s sparked a frightening increase in the amount of herbicides in this country.  There's no reason to think that the deregulation of 2,4-D resistant plants will be any different," said Pingree. "The overuse of these powerful herbicides has led to superweeds that require an even stronger cocktail of toxic chemicals to control.  When will it end?  Today, it's Enlist 'Duo.'  Tomorrow, it could be 'Triple' or 'Quintet.'  The federal government needs to take a hard look at ending this destructive cycle."
    The herbicide, Dow’s Enlist Duo, contains both glyphosate (the active ingredient in RoundUp) as well as 2,4-D, the same compound used in Agent Orange that sickened many Vietnam veterans.
     
    “Right now, we are witnessing agribusiness attempt to wield its powerful influence over federal regulators. They want EPA and USDA to rubberstamp another set of genetically engineered crops rather than listen to the scientific community,” DeFazio said. “We must stop this toxic treadmill because the health of our children and our environment is at stake.”
     Members are concerned EPA and USDA have failed to properly analyze the potentially devastating health and environmental effects of allowing the use of this next generation "of herbicide-resistant crops. As the letter to the EPA and the USDA states, the scientific community warned about the dangers of exposure to 2,4-D for decades. 2,4-D is linked to cancer, decreased sperm count liver disease and Parkinson’s disease.  A recent report shows thousands of schools would be next to spray zones.

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