Maine Environmental News
By
Jym St. Pierre

The Maine House of Representatives today passed the Maine Foods Bill (LD 1431), following Senate passage yesterday afternoon. The bill would jumpstart the development of food hubs—a key part of the infrastructure needed to bring Maine’s local foods movement to scale and enable Maine to feed Maine.

Senator Chris Johnson of Lincoln, the bill’s sponsor, said “I am pleased that LD 1431 received unanimous support in the Senate and a supermajority in the House. It is an important step toward helping Maine’s agricultural economy grow and supply more of our food locally.” 

“This bill is a triple win – it’s good for our environment, our health, and local economic development,” said Environment Maine Director Emily Figdor. “Food hubs will reduce our dependence on polluting out-of-state factory farms, provide Mainers more fresh and nutritious food, and build our state’s resiliency in the face of climate change.”

LD 1431 enables farmers and entrepreneurs who want to start new food hubs or expand existing ones to receive grants and low-interest loans through the Agricultural Marketing Loan Program. 

“Maine has one of the most vibrant food and farm economies in the country, and legislation like LD 1431 is part of the reason why. This bill creates opportunities to support much needed linkages between farm foods and a wide variety of geographically dispersed customers,” said Marada Cook, who runs Crown O’Maine Organic Cooperative, an existing food hub in Vassalboro.

Despite our rich agricultural heritage, Maine imports more of its food than any other state in the continental United States. As a result, we’re heavily reliant on out-of-state factory farms that pollute our air and water. And each year, we send millions out of state that could be invested locally.

We have lost the infrastructure needed for Maine to feed Maine, such as food hubs, slaughterhouses, processing centers, and distribution networks. Food hubs allow smaller producers aggregate, store, process, and distribute their products to larger markets, such as grocery stores, schools, and hospitals.

While the bill initially provided funding to train school food service workers and reimburse schools for a portion of the cost of serving local foods, Senator Brian Langley offered an amendment to strip the funding due to current budget constraints and instead direct the Education Department to seek available federal funds for training and operating farm-to-school programs. Senator Johnson and Environment Maine both supported the amendment, while remaining committed to helping schools serve Maine-grown food.

“While we are disappointed that the funding had to be cut, we are hopeful that the Departments of Agriculture and Education will help secure federal funding so that Maine K-12 schools can provide kids with fresh Maine produce,” said Ken Morse, coordinator of Maine’s Farm-to-School Network. “Maine is poised to see an agricultural revival that could be a cornerstone for not only local economies but also public health. And LD1431 is a step towards building this future for our kids and our communities.”

“We know that a healthy and resilient food system is important to Mainers, and we are encouraged to see our legislators support our communities,” said Caroline Ginsberg of the Maine People’s Alliance. “This bill is a great step towards expanding access to local foods in Maine.”

Existing food hubs in Maine include Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan; Crown of Maine Organic Co-Op in Vassalboro; Northern Girl in Limestone; Coastal Farms in Belfast; and Farm Fresh in Freeport. 

The Senate passed the bill unanimously, while the House first voted 118-23 to accept the majority report before voting unanimously to pass the Senate amendment and then the bill as amended. The bill now goes to the Special Appropriations Table, with small fiscal note.

“Senator Chris Johnson has done tremendous work moving this bill forward. He is a visionary leader and such a hard worker. We applaud his commitment to increasing Maine-grown food in our schools and growing Maine’s agricultural economy,” concluded Figdor.