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  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

     

  • Gov. LePage undercuts $1.2 billion sector by refusing to release Land for Maine’s Future bonds

     Op-ed by Representative Craig Hickman of Winthrop-House chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and an organic farmer

    This Sunday, I hope you’ll take advantage of the chance to visit one of Maine’s many farms. You can stroll through orchards and vegetable gardens, you might pick your own berries or peek inside a creamery. You can watch lambs grazing in pastures or maybe even pet a cashmere goat.

    Maine’s annual Open Farm Day is this Sunday. Farms all across the state will open their gates to the public and offer an intimate look at their operations. 

    Organic farming photo by Ramona du Houx

    It’s a great way for Mainers – and tourists – to connect with the people who produce our food, fiber and other agricultural products. It’s also a great way to build community, because I believe farms are community.

    I’m proud to be part of Maine’s robust agricultural tradition. It supports many livelihoods and provides sustenance for all. Agriculture has a $1.2 billion impact on Maine’s economy.

    We all know that Maine is special. We boast hardworking, entrepreneurial, independent-spirited people and the rich natural resources needed to expand farming and food production and to grow our economy from the ground up – literally. 

    Nationally, the number of working farms is declining while the average age of farmers is increasing. But Maine is attracting and cultivating younger famers. In recent years, we have seen farmers under the age of 34 increase by nearly 40 percent. This is great news for the future of farming in Maine.

    When it comes to my work at the State House, I believe that policymakers need to do our part to create a more robust food economy and help these small businesses prosper. We need policies that empower farms of all sizes to thrive by creating more local and regional markets and expand broader markets for our signature commodity foods of wild blueberries, potatoes and lobster.

    It is the policy of the state to be food self-sufficient, but, by importing 90 percent of the food Mainers consume, we clearly have more work to do. This session, my bill to encourage people to grow, process and preserve their own food to feed themselves, their families and their communities became law. This bill also addresses the current shortage of farm workers by establishing a farm labor link network so that farms have enough workers to take advantage of the growing local foods movement.

    Maine’s strength can be found in our primary economic engines: farming, fishing and forestry – the emblems of our heritage on our state’s flag. If we want more Maine jobs, we need to start with policies that help promote the growth and strengthen our primary economies, not undercut them.

    Maple Syrup production in Maine takes place on many farms. photo by Ramona du Houx

    The recent news about the Land for Maine’s Future bonds is a prime example. Since its establishment in 1987, this successful conservation program supported by Mainers from across the political spectrum and from all walks of life has protected 37 working farms and more than two dozen working waterfronts, 300,000 acres of commercial forestland and 560,000 acres of conservation and recreation lands.  It’s one of the reasons why we must continue to urge the governor to release the voter-approved bonds for the program’s projects.

    Yes, we suffered a setback at the end of the First Regular Session when several lawmakers in the House changed their votes to sustain a veto on a bill that honored the will of the people to issue these important bonds. But we will have another opportunity to address this when we reconvene in January.

    In the meanwhile, enjoy your CSA shares and farmer’s markets this summer, attend one or more of Maine’s agricultural fairs happening now through October and take the opportunity to connect with your local farmers this weekend.

    Maybe you can collect some eggs, maybe you can milk a cow, maybe you can watch how they process and prepare foods for market or see how fiber is transformed into yarn. All of this and more will be possible all over the state this Sunday on Open Farm Day.

  • 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.