Two weeks ago, the Brunswick Farmers’ Market returned for the summer season. As a college student in Brunswick and avid foodie, the market was high on my bucket list. Visiting last fall, I was charmed by its quaint atmosphere, but, ultimately, farmers markets like Brunswick’s serve a greater purpose: distributing essential fresh produce and tackling food insecurity.

Food insecurity is a struggle facing many Mainers. Feeding America ranked Maine as the second most food insecure state in 2019, with Washington County observing the highest rates, approximately 55% above the national average.

Yet hunger in Maine is not due to a lack of food production. In fact, Maine’s hungriest counties often service more farmland acreage than their food secure counterparts. Washington County, for instance, maintains more farmland than Cumberland and Sagadahoc combined.

Food insecurity is ultimately rooted in weak local food systems. A 2017 UMaine study identified “distributional difficulties” as the primary barrier to feeding Mainers. Many regions lack networks to get produce from farm to table, forcing residents to purchase highly processed foods at convenience stores.

Cultivating relationships with farmers is key to strong food systems, but large, industrial farms struggle to integrate with local communities. Consequently, Maine’s most food insecure regions are dominated by large farms, following a national shift towards more commercial agriculture.

Increasing small-scale agriculture state-wide poses numerous benefits. Family ownership facilitates local relationships and the implementation of farmers markets. Moreover, small farms can avoid harmful pesticides and support broader nutritional needs.

Unfortunately, small farms are costly to upkeep. A recent census recorded a 10% loss of Maine farmland between 2012-2017. However, Maine officials can and must employ policy to financially support small farms, and Maine has historically provided select farms with grants and business assistance.

To address food insecurity, we must urge our local representatives and advocate for more policy that economically supports family farms, specifically targeting food insecure counties. Policy making is a lengthy ordeal, but in the meantime, I encourage Mainers to support local food systems. Personally, I look forward to revisiting Brunswick’s Farmers Market in its summer season!

Leah Dichter,
Brunswick

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