Last month, I wrote about all the new changes our students will experience this school year as a result of measures we passed in the Legislature. One of those measures involved making Maine one of the first states in the country to guarantee free meals for all students, regardless of income. Interestingly enough, this past week was National School Lunch Week, which gave me some time to reflect on just how important nutritious, filling meals are in school environments. Not only are students able to focus and perform better in their academics, but in their extracurricular activities as well. As a longtime high school football coach, I can’t tell you just how important it is that we provide our students with meals that will keep them full all day. That’s why the Legislature decided to grow and expand our Local Foods Fund. Not only are we focused on providing meals to all students, but we want to help ensure that schools have the option to buy their food from local farmers and producers. It’s what is best for our students and our local farmers.

One of the greatest barriers for our schools to buy local is the high costs that can come with it. The sad reality is that it can often be cheaper to buy produce from farms across the country that run larger operations. In the Legislature, we saw an opportunity to increase demand for our farmers while also providing pathways to better meals for our kids. That’s why we passed a law this session to create the Local Foods Fund that helps get more locally grown, healthy food on our student’s lunch trays. This works by reimbursing schools one dollar for every three dollars they spend at our local participating farms. The Local Foods Fund is an expansion of an existing program formerly called the Local Produce Fund. This year, we grew and improved the program so that it works better for schools and farmers.

Previously, the Local Foods Fund program only covered produce, but we know there are more variables involved in a balanced diet, especially for growing children. We also know we don’t have to look far to find farmers and producers right here in Maine who are capable of helping provide well-balanced nutritious food to our students.

Giles Family Farm and Riverside Farm are some of the farms in our community that are already contributing to the program, putting locally grown food on the cafeteria table for Maine kids. These farms grow and harvest corn, potatoes, onions and more for our students. I am so pleased that we found a way to improve the meals we provide for our students while also boosting our local economy. To me, this is what successful state legislating looks like, and it’s the kind of work I am interested in doing more of in the Senate.

I am very excited about these changes and am hopeful that we are doing all that we can to lower Maine’s rate of students who are food-insecure, a figure that currently stands at one in every six. If you or your family need help finding food resources, visit https://www.gsfb.org/get-help/food-map/, https://211maine.org/, or reach out to my office any time. You can send me an email [email protected] or reach me by phone at (207) 590-9902. If you want to stay even more up to date on what we’re working on in Augusta, sign up for my newsletter at mainesenate.org.

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