AUBURN — Something exciting is happening in communities across Maine – farmers are growing high-quality food for hunger-relief programs to nourish their neighbors in need, and those farmers are being paid for their products, thanks to a program called Mainers Feeding Mainers.

This innovative program, run by Good Shepherd Food Bank, has been funded in recent years by a one-time state appropriation. This funding runs out next month, and without an ongoing appropriation, the food bank will lose approximately $1 million a year and Mainers Feeding Mainers will be drastically cut.

L.D. 786, which would provide ongoing funding, has passed the House and Senate with broad support and will soon be forwarded to the Appropriations Committee for additional review. Funding this bill would be an excellent way for legislators to support the revitalization of business and community in rural Maine.

While many have hailed Maine’s agricultural sector as a bright spot in our state’s economy, the recent U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture shows reasons to be concerned. The report concludes that between 2012 and 2017, Maine lost 10 percent of its farmland and 573 farms, and there was a nearly 16 percent decline in average net income per farm.

Given these alarming developments, Maine must focus on supporting a diverse agricultural sector with viable – dare we say, thriving – farm businesses.

At Good Shepherd Food Bank, we found that purchasing from local farms allows us to source nutritious food for Mainers in need while also supporting local economies. Our dollars are helping to weave the fabric of community by connecting local farms with food pantries and providing access to fresh food for people who often go without it.

Mainers Feeding Mainers has become a vital source of income for more than 70 farms, and a vital source of fresh food for nearly 400 food pantries and school programs across the state. We contract with our farm partners before the growing season, offering a secure revenue stream that allows them to plan and invest in their businesses.

Last year, Good Shepherd sourced 2.1 million pounds of food from Maine farmers, investing $750,000 directly into the state’s agricultural economy. Additional funds helped cover the cost of safely storing and distributing this fresh food to hunger-relief programs throughout the state.

In a recent survey of our farm partners, Good Shepherd found that, as a result of participating in Mainers Feeding Mainers in recent years, 70 percent have hired additional workers, 84 percent have purchased equipment and 72 percent have expanded acreage. Ninety-two percent of Mainers Feeding Mainers farms have seen overall revenue growth while participating in the program. All of these outcomes serve to bolster Maine’s rural farm economy.

According to one farm partner, “Mainers Feeding Mainers allows us to sell our produce locally in Piscataquis County. Without it, we would have to significantly shift our marketing towards southern Maine, which would both decrease access to fresh produce in our local community and put our business at a disadvantage compared to other farms. Mainers Feeding Mainers has been a significant factor in our ability to successfully operate a farm business in Piscataquis County.”

If this funding lapses, farms across the state will lose an important source of revenue. Maine’s local hunger-relief programs will have significantly less fresh produce to distribute and people across Maine who are struggling to make ends meet will no longer see that farm-fresh, high-quality food at the local pantry. Instead, once again they will receive the seconds, the cast-offs, the past-its-prime food. And we will have to explain that funding ran out and Good Shepherd Food Bank can no longer purchase fresh, Maine-grown produce to help them get by.

The time is right for Maine to invest in farm businesses and rural communities, to support the health and well-being of our neighbors who are struggling and to highlight proven solutions that are helping make our state a better place to live and work. Providing ongoing funding for Mainers Feeding Mainers would achieve all three of these goals.


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