Since COVID-19 arrived in Maine, the state has distributed about $18 million in CARES Act relief grants to 609 agricultural and food service operations to cover expenses tied to the pandemic, Gov. Janet Mills announced Tuesday.

The grants have reimbursed farmers, food processors and producers, as well as food banks and pantries for investments and unplanned expenses, Mills said Tuesday during an online brownbag lunch at the Maine Agricultural Trade Show. The funds came from the CARES Act’s Agriculture and Food Processing Infrastructure, E-Commerce and Food Security Network reimbursement programs.

“At the outset of the pandemic and as more people sought Maine-grown, raised and Maine-made products, our farms, food processors and food suppliers adapted to create safe environments for both employees and customers,” Mills said in a statement. “I am grateful for the way our agricultural community has responded during this pandemic to serve the people of Maine. My administration will continue to deploy every available resource to ensure their success in these challenging times.”

The pandemic disrupted markets and caused a spike in food insecurity, forcing many businesses and nonprofits to pivot production and distribution to keep workers, volunteers and customers safe, said Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Amanda Beal.

“Our ability to offer reimbursements for some unanticipated expenses enhances their stability and allows them to stay focused on the important work that they do,” Beal said.

The agriculture and food processing component of the program awarded $17.3 million in grants to 437 farms, food processors and other food supply chain businesses, according to Mills.

The e-commerce program last year awarded $247,000 to 84 farmers for unplanned investments, including online sales management and payment processing platforms, order processing and fulfillment software, and website customization.

The food security program, administered by Catholic Charities of Maine, provided $621,000 to 88 food banks and pantries for unanticipated expenses associated with food supply and distribution.

“Catholic Charities Maine was proud to be able to respond quickly and assist the State of Maine with the distribution of critical funds at a time when more people than ever before are experiencing hunger and food insecurity in our state,” Steve Letourneau, CEO of Catholic Charities Maine, said in a statement.

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